The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies and to recognize when their attention has wandered and to provide tools for control.
We know mindfulness is good for us. Mindfulness allows us to be present in our parenting, choosing a skillful response, instead of succumbing to our visceral reactions.
Mindfulness is also good for our kids. There is an emerging body of research that indicates mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset and to make better decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus. Do I even need to ask if you want that for your kids?
So where do we start? How can we teach these important skills to our children?
First things first…
Establish your own practice. You would have trouble teaching your children ballet if you had never danced. To authentically teach mindfulness to your children, you need to practice it yourself. You can start slowly with a meditation practice of just five to 10 minutes a day. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities. Don’t let this step intimidate you — you’re probably practicing a lot of mindful habits already!
Keep it simple. Mindfulness is a big word for young kids to understand. Put simply, mindfulness is awareness. It is noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now.
Check your expectations. Are you expecting mindfulness to eliminate tantrums? to make your active child calm? to make your house quiet? If so, you are likely to be disappointed. While feeling calm or being quiet are nice side-effects of mindfulness, they are not the ultimate purpose.
The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognize their thoughts as “just thoughts,” to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control. It is not a panacea, and it will not completely get rid of what is, frankly, normal kid behavior, like tantrums and loudness and whining and exuberance and arguing…
Don’t force it. If your kids aren’t interested in your lesson or activity, drop it. This is a good time for you to practice non-attachment to outcomes!